First out of the box this week is the classic Modern Art. Kim is very good at this game, and when she let me win a few weeks back I figured I better enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen often. Sure enough, Kim won again – despite the fact that she never played a single ‘=’ card (some have leveled the complaint that the double-auctions can be a bit powerful). I did poorly, finishing last, despite selling a pair of Christin P’s for 150 in the last round, as much as I can ever remember getting from a single auction. The bidding was overall a bit conservative as it turns out (although we did have a new player who egregiously overbid a couple times), so it was a buyer’s game generally and I just didn’t acquire enough art in the middle game. Art is good, because it provides both money and power.
Milton had acquired a copy of Magna Grecia at the Wizard’s fire sale, and this was one I was interested in trying so I got into that while the others moved on to Was Sitcht?. This is a game by Leo Colovini, a designer I’ve cooled on after his first two games (Carolus Magnus and Cartegena, both of which I liked). He seems a bit over-exposed these days, and his designs to me are often dry and unengaging (Doge, Clans). But, I had heard some good stuff about Magna Grecia.
Basically, it’s a railroad game. You’re trying to build networks of cities, and you score points for having markets in cities that are connected to lots of other cities. There are also points for Oracles, which are won by founding cities connected to lots of other cities, also connected to the Oracle. Each turn, a card is turned up which specifies the turn order and gives all the players a choice from three actions, of which you can choose two – building some number of roads, cities, or increasing your El Grande-esque reserve of pieces. There are two versions of the game, 8 and 12 turns. We played the 8-turn version.
I found it a bit hard to engage on this game, I must admit. Part of it is theme (or lack thereof), I’m sure – Knizia takes flak for weak themes, but this is ridiculous; Magna Grecia is very dry. Part of it is the analysis paralysis issue – there is nothing to do between turns, and the board situation usually changes too much between moves as you have a great deal of freedom in where to play. Part of it is also that the game is very incremental, so you spend a lot of time agonizing over plays that really have little to differentiate them. As a result of this, I am suspicious it may be far too “damped”, with little ability for the players to really get ahead. And although it doesn’t generally bother me that much, the graphic design on this product really is appalling. The pieces and map are ugly, and the turn-order chits are very confusing.
Now all this having been said, despite all the issues I actually thought the game wasn’t bad. You’ve got to plan a bit, managing your reserve stocks. There are obviously different strategies to be pursued. It presents you with tough choices. There are significant tensions on the scarce resources. All things that I like, generally. Due to the downtime issues and my suspicions about the game balance, I’m in no hurry to go out and get a copy, even at 40% off – and it certainly doesn’t compare very favorably to either Stephenson’s Rocket or Morisi, two games it has more than a passing resemblance to. But the acid test is that it has enough good stuff that I would definitely play again; I am certain my opinion would go either up or down significantly with another playing or two.